How to Build a Legal Internship Program

Experiential learning is a great way for students to gain valuable skills and make professional connections. Companies, on the other hand, get to evaluate talented students and recruit the best. If your company is committed to grooming the future workforce, then take the time to develop a mutually beneficial internship program that reflects your brand values and follows legal requirements.

What can a company gain from an internship program?

Discuss expectations upfront so you can structure your program accordingly. A well-organized internship program can increase the visibility of your company and support recruitment goals. Here are some potential benefits that can impact how you organize the program:

  • Test drive talent – Set interns up for success by outlining learning objectives, responsibilities and give them a meaningful project. Make sure there’s a supervisor who can answer any questions and provide guidance. This makes it easier to evaluate an intern’s capabilities.
  • Support current employees – Short-term assistance on seasonal projects or busy positions leverages low cost interns while exposing them to real-world experience. Having their help can boost company morale while also filing the pipeline with potential candidates.
  • Drive novel thinking – A year-round source of motivated interns can provide fresh ideas and a unique point of view that could help employees solve problems and boost company morale.

Keep your internship program compliant

First and foremost, internships should be learning opportunities for students, according to the Department of Labor. Employers should be familiar with state and federal laws regarding minimum wage requirements, workers’ compensation, safety and harassment policies, and if traditional employee benefits apply to interns. Other considerations include:

  • Do not fill a vacant position or displace a regular worker with an intern.
  • Internships are for a specific time frame designated prior to the intern starting and should not be used or considered a “trial period” or “probationary period” to permanent employment.
  • Age limitations vary from state to state for child labor standards. Conversely be careful not to discriminate illegally against older intern applicants.
  • Interns are eligible for compensation unless specific regulations and parameters are in place.
  • Classify interns as non-exempt, keep track of their hours and pay at least minimum wage plus any applicable overtime. If any interns are working remotely, be sure to pay the minimum wage requirement for their working state.
  • If utilizing foreign interns, make sure their Visas are in good standing, properly issued and are not expired.

MidwestHR, a top CPEO in Illinois, can help you develop a robust internship program that complies with the Fair Labor Standards Act guidelines established by the Department of Labor. We can also advise you on best practices to make sure the program is reflective of your core values. Give us a call to get started.

Starting in the Professional Employer Organization industry 24 years ago, Char has been involved in almost every aspect of PEO services. In her role as the Managing Director of HR & Benefits at MidwestHR, she oversees all HR compliance and employee benefits in addition to managing retirement plans.